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Thursday, November 02, 2006
"Luft hai kaun si kahani mein...
Aap beeti kahun ki jag beeti"
("What story will be more absorbing...?
How the world in which I lived, fared
Or what fate hath held in store for me.")
- Umrao Jaan Ada
A courtesan and a poetess in her own right, Umrao Jaan was a name to be reckoned with in any description of life in Avadh. If Lucknow was the heart of Avadh, Umrao was the heart beat.
When she first came to Lucknow, she was Amiran, the eight year old daughter of a lower middle class family. Her father was a Jamadar at the 'Bahu Begum ka Makhbara' in Faizabad. A pious and simple man, he gave evidence in a case against Dilawar Khan, a habitual offender. Dilawar was sentenced to jail for ten years. After finishing his sentence Dilawar came out, only to kidnap little Amiran, cart her to Lucknow and sell her to a kotha owned by the astute Khanum Sahib. This was the vengeance and a few rupees as bonus. "Let her suffer a death worse than a death," he said.
A kotha in that age, especially that of Khanum was not only a cultural hub known for excellence in performing arts but also a temple of learning - learning the art of living. As an inmate of the kotha, little Amiran benefited the most. Khanum gave her the name 'Umrao', Bua Hussaini brought her up in style, Maulvi Sahib imparted education, Khan Sahib initiated her into the world of music while the great Kathak Acharya made her feet move to rhythm. In the company of Bismillah, Khurshid and Gauhar Mirza, Umrao developed varied skills including poetry. The pen name "Ada" was ample proof of the proficiency in writing and presenting poetry that she went on to acquire.
Graduating in years, Umrao became a rage in Lucknow. A beauty that was stunning, a manner that was enticing and words that were soul stirring, made the name of Umrao Jaan mean sheer joy of watching and listening.
Stepping into youth, she had to seek the love of her life. His name was Nawab Sultan. With the whole of Avadh at her feet, Umrao craved for Sultan's company. Somewhere deep inside her being, she had a dream of a husband, a family and a home. She chased her dream from one end of the rainbow to the other.
Would she realize her dream ever? Would she come face to face with Amiran once again? They say the child in you never dies...Just as hope never dies....